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How English sounds to Non-English speakers
Thread poster: Ty Kendall

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:04
Hebrew to English
May 10, 2013

Language aesthetics is a personal interest of mine and I am wondering how English sounds to speakers of other languages...mostly on a phonetic level (although I'm aware these phonetic considerations come immersed in socio-political preconceptions).

Most people are aware of the origin of the word "barbarian" - stemming from a perception of non-Greek speech.

The "Catherine Tate/Helen Marsh" interpreter video is a pretty accurate (and funny) portrayal of how those languages sound to the average English-speaking ear (if somewhat exaggerated for comedy effect).

And then there's Prisencolinensinainciusol, a song intended for Italians to sound like American English (and surprisingly catchy, in a 70s type way).

I also recently discovered this video called "Skwerl" - which is spoken in a kind of "fake" English, to simulate what English might sound like to a foreigner (it's English words and English sounding words all mixed up in a mostly nonsensical order, but with definite recognizable traits).

I always thought that, given the frequency of alveolar hissing sibilants in English [i.e. /s/and /z/] that it might sound quite "hissy" to others (unless you're talking to Sean Connery, then all those hissing sibilants becoming hushing ones!icon_smile.gif ).

I was just wondering, what does English sound like to you?




[Edited at 2013-05-10 12:32 GMT]


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:04
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
English, English or English? May 10, 2013

In the early 80s, when I had not been in Denmark very long, I overheard a couple of schoolchildren on a bus discussing this and that.

"Can you understand the English on TV?"
"Yes, some of it - can't you?"
"Maybe. But can you really follow Dallas without the subtitles?"
"Dallas? No way, that's American, it's a different language!"

I couldn't believe my ears!

But it doesn't really answer your question.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:04
Hebrew to English
TOPIC STARTER
No, but it's interesting... May 10, 2013

I've heard similar things before!icon_smile.gif

I just think it's interesting that we have such widespread "stereotypes" of how certain languages sound in English and I often wonder how it is on the other side of the fence!


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:04
Italian to English
The illusion of speed May 10, 2013

Many Italian speakers seem to think that English is spoken very quickly. This is odd, because plenty of English speakers have the exactly same idea about Italian!

AFAICS the main reason for this is that Italian is syllable-timed and English is stress-timed.

If you speak Italian, you naturally tend to transfer syllable-timing to English, which reduces or eliminates syllables that carry little information. The unstressed syllables leave the stress-timing-tuned Italian-speaking listener with the disconcerting impression of having missed something.

English speakers, on the other hand, may assume that Italian is stress-timed. Since Italian speakers stress all syllables more or less equally, this produces an apparent information overload and/or the impression that the speech is unmodulated (the "machine-gun" or "Dalek" effect).

In both cases, the bewildered non-native listener is left in awe at how fast the other language is spoken icon_wink.gif


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:04
Hebrew to English
TOPIC STARTER
Speed perception May 10, 2013

Hey Giles!

That's interesting, when I first started learning Spanish (after many years of German) I was amazed at how fast they spoke, it was like they didn't even come up for air! At the time I blamed sinalefa and would nod convincingly with a resounding ¡Sí, claro! when I missed partsicon_smile.gif


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 03:04
German to Serbian
+ ...
Your "survey" May 10, 2013

I think what you are aiming at would be better tested with languages completely unfamiliar to me. Then I could report on how I was feeling when I heard it, purely based on "listening".

 

Gabriela Miklińska  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:04
Member (2010)
Spanish to Polish
+ ...
Well... May 10, 2013

Hello Ty,

Your post just reminded me a funny scene from a Polish cult commedy "Teddy Bear" (Miś) directed by Stanisław Bareja in the 80s that might answer yor questionicon_smile.gif


The first part is in Polish but wait until the endicon_smile.gifhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_4blWBV7ao&feature=youtube_gdata_player


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:04
Italian to English
Spanish timing May 10, 2013

Ty Kendall wrote:

Hey Giles!

That's interesting, when I first started learning Spanish (after many years of German) I was amazed at how fast they spoke, it was like they didn't even come up for air! At the time I blamed sinalefa and would nod convincingly with a resounding ¡Sí, claro! when I missed partsicon_smile.gif



The stress vs syllable timing distinction is only part of the prosodic story, of course, but Italian and English are pretty much at the extremes of the spectrum. Spanish tends towards the syllable-timed Italian end of the range and German towards stress-timed English. Modern Greek is much more stress-timed than syllable-timed.

And if you want to remind yourself what English sounds like to Spanish speakers, you could have another listen to Aserejé.


 

Gabriela Miklińska  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:04
Member (2010)
Spanish to Polish
+ ...
Oops May 10, 2013

Here's the link that works:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_4blWBV7ao


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:04
Hebrew to English
TOPIC STARTER
... May 10, 2013

@Gabriela

I had read about that but I hadn't seen it before!icon_smile.gif Do we really sound like we have potatoes in our mouths?icon_smile.gif

@Giles

How could I have forgotten such a classic hit?icon_razz.gif


 

Gabriela Miklińska  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:04
Member (2010)
Spanish to Polish
+ ...
... May 10, 2013

You know, the film is full of acerbic and surreal sense of humor, so don't take it personallyicon_smile.gif I actually LOVE the way you guys speakicon_smile.gif I guess it's just really hard for us Poles to imitate your accent.

 

Bernard Lieber  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:04
English to French
+ ...
Tomatis May 10, 2013

I seem to remember that how languages are perceived depends on the frequency range of your own native language.

Tomatis did quite a bit of research and found that your ability to hear sounds, etc. depends on the actual frequency range in your own language and if I remember rightly Eastern European languages cover the highest frequency range, Russian in particular.

I also saw a recent post saying that Spanish has the highest output but no additional meaning is added - so speed might not be that important.

French people often say that to speak English properly in particular BBC English you need to put a hot potato in your mouth.

Here's one about Australian English = lip laziness & stiff jaw, I guess to avoid swallowing dust or flies!

French is often considered as a "feminine" language because it's perceived as soft.

Here's a link but it's in French still shows clearly the differences in frequency range: http://www.tomatisrouen.com/langues.htm
Would be interesting to know what the frequency range is in Asian languages

Bernard

[Edited at 2013-05-11 14:03 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-05-11 14:16 GMT]

[Edited at 2013-05-11 14:40 GMT]


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:04
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Yuk May 10, 2013

Ty Kendall wrote:


I also recently discovered this video called "Skwerl" - which is spoken in a kind of "fake" English, to simulate what English might sound like to a foreigner (it's English words and English sounding words all mixed up in a mostly nonsensical order, but with definite recognizable traits).


What really annoys me about this horrible simulation of American English is that the toe-curlingly repulsive couple are not even remotely interested in what they are eating, and are not enjoying the experience !


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:04
English to Polish
+ ...
Once upon a time May 11, 2013

Once upon a time taking a tram back home in Poland, I became convinced I heard American English but just couldn't make out the words. Nope. Just some teenagers of the TV generation. Not a word of it was actual English. It's possible they didn't even really know much English at all.

Part of the reason I sound somewhat foreign or archaic myself whenever I speak British, especially during the first moments of a conversation, is because I just can't get myself to produce fall-rise. It's a psychic barrier. I just can't get myself to the point of actually caring like that. I can't stand the unnatural emphasis, which is how it sounds to me. Actually, it's not just that, it can be a little painful to hear. Sometimes when you watch a couple of ladies launch themselves into a chit-chat over a cup of tea, for example. That's like being talked to when you have a nasty migraine. I just can't comprehend how it's even possible to pack all those emotions into one's speech and actually care like that. On the other hand, you guys reportedly tend to think we've just been offended or just can't be bothered whenever you hear a Pole talking in his usual flat voice.

As for American English, the typical Polish perception is that it sounds winded (Nothern dialects, NYC etc.) or tough-talk-like (Southern). Those Poles who actually get it right (and that's not many) sound incredibly nasal in their Polish.


 

Ambrose Li  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:04
Chinese to English
+ ...
Frequency range? May 11, 2013

Bernard Lieber wrote:

I seem to remember that how languages are perceived depends on the frequency range of your own native language.

Tomatis did quite a bit of research and found that your ability to hear sounds, etc. depends on the actual frequency range in your own language and if I remember rightly Eastern European languages cover the highest frequency range, Russian in particular.


I’m surprised Russian would top the list. If we really are talking about frequency range, I would have assumed something like Chinese would be near the top and not Russian.


 
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How English sounds to Non-English speakers

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